Fall feels like a magical time for us, for some reason. Maybe it’s the way the light hits the landscape or the lack of humidity and crispness in the air. As farmers, we certainly love the bounty that the summer brings us, but the change of seasons is important to us and it’s a good time of year to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. In the Carolinas, we always talk about the Carolina blue sky, but it’s really in the fall when you’re able to see what that means – after the haze of summer has lifted and you can see that it’s time to exhale and relax after the craziness of a farmed summer.
Of all things Fall, we most appreciate the seasonal produce, and especially the fresh apple crop. So each autumn around the third week of October, we head to the North Carolina mountains to go apple picking. Picking apples late in the season is the perfect time for us to enjoy several loves at once… beautiful weather, the fall colors, roasting marshmallows by the fire and, of course, apples in all their glory. And during late October, some orchards in the mountains have two of our favorite varieties to eat and cook – pink ladies and Arkansas blacks.
Our favorite spot for picking is Sky Top Orchard (http://www.skytoporchard.com/) just outside of Flat Rock. You really can’t beat the view of the mountains from this orchard or the wide selection of apple varieties they grow. Dogs are also allowed so we take Juno along to enjoy the ride while we load up our wagon full of apples and pull it back to the apple barn. Back at the stand, you can select from apples (of course), fresh, non-pasteurized apple cider, smoking hot apple doughnuts, and all kinds of gourds and pumpkins. And sometimes you can watch the apple cider press in action. It’s a beautiful thing to have such great apples within a 3 ½ hour drive from our home in Hurdle Mills, NC.
Once back home we enjoy apple cider on its own, but sometimes we like to amend it with items to make a more decadent treat. We’ve adapted a recipe from the Beckman Boys 1802 Heirloom Cookbook to suit our own tastes and interests.
Mulled Cider Recipe:
1/2 gallon apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks, halved lengthwise
2 (2-inch) pieces of fresh ginger (or frozen from earlier in the year)
1 orange, quartered
16 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 vanilla bean, sliced open lengthwise
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Stud the orange with the whole cloves. In a medium to large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the cider, cinnamon, ginger, orange with cloves (sliced up if you want to release more of the juices), allspice and vanilla bean. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 5 minutes. Strain the mixture and discard the spices. Return the mixture to a gentle simmer and stir in the maple syrup. Serve warm.
Want to impress friends? Invite them over and make this! It’s a simple way to add a little more decadence and depth to an already nearly perfect beverage. For the adults, a little added dark rum is fantastic (Kraken black spiced rum works really well), or even some local apple brandy such as Carriage House Apple Brandy out of Lenoir, NC.
Enjoying the warm cup of cider out by a cozy fire in the crisp air of the autumn evening – what a perfect way to take that deep breath and… relax.
It’s also a great beverage for fall weddings…
Stay tuned for another entry on apples – making a great apple pie!